by Guy Gavriel Kay

My husband is a self-confessed, self-declared high fantasy purist, and I would have to give him credit for my sustained interest in and appreciation for the genre. True, I haven't read a lot of high fantasy books compared to him or some other friends I know, but I'd like to think that the few I have read are some of the best works there are. I also turn to the genre every once in a while, whenever inspiration strikes. So when the book club, courtesy of moderators Aaron and JL, picked stand-alone high fantasy for the October discussion, I was game.

Tigana is basically a story of power and who should wield it, mixed with themes on identity, memories, and love. For the longest time, powerful sorcerers Brandin of Ygrath and Alberico of Barbadior, who each exercise control over certain provinces in a territory called Peninsula of the Palm, have been rivals. Each of them desire to be in control of the entire Peninsula, but neither one wish to be the aggressor against the other. Behind the scenes, however, a small band of men and women led by Alessan of Tregea is secretly plotting not only the overthrow of the two sorcerers, but also, the reclaiming of their identities and the memories that were nearly wiped out by Brandin years ago. It would appear that in the past, in a battle set in a province called Tigana, Brandin's younger son was slain and, in his rage, Brandin used his powers to extinguish Tigana and practically erase the memories of those who lived in it. But there were survivors, and they never forgot.


I enjoyed reading Tigana, but not right away, I must admit. The first few chapters were hard to follow, and I found myself getting confused many times. Eventually, however, I got the hang of the story, and while I was mindful that my very slow reading pace equally matched that of the novel's - it took a while for the story to build up - I enjoyed reading it nonetheless.

Like most of the characters in the few high fantasy books I've read, I found myself utterly loving and rooting for some of the personalities in Tigana, among whom is Brandin of Ygrath. Yes, Brandin was a tyrant and was presented as an anti-hero, but he would turn out to be my favorite character in the book. I understood his grief and rage at the death of his son, sympathized with him in that respect, and could not blame him for having taken revenge against the Tiganese for his loss. He ruled with an iron fist, true, but he also had a soft side to him, as shown by his deep love for Dianora, his glorified concubine. Taking Brandin as an example, therefore, I would say that the characters in Tigana were well-developed and multi-dimensional. Even Dianora, whom I initially disliked because of her seemingly questionable loyalties, eventually redeemed herself - who am I to blame true love?

I loved how Tigana was lyrically written. It seemed apt for a novel that has music and song infused into its plot. I guess, like religion, songs are a staple in the formula for making a good fantasy novel, and this reader is not complaining.


Well, there is one thing. What was the significance of that bit about the Ember War and the Night Walkers in the grand scheme of things? Because until now, I am still at a loss as to how they were connected to everything else that transpired in the novel.

It's amazing how a writer could craft an entire fantasy story into a single work such as this. Having finished series like LOTR and A Song of Ice and Fire, and read the first installments in the Earthsea Cycle and Shannara series years back - with a minimum of three books in the case of LOTR - I could only imagine how tedious it is to compress all of the elements of a good fantasy story into a less-than-a-thousand-pages novel. But Guy Gavriel Kay did it, and did it really good.

Hand-drawn poster for the book club's discussion, by JL :)

And that ending! Dammit!

Rating: ★★★★
Recommended by: TFG's Book of the Month for October
Book details: Digital edition courtesy of Aaron (Thank you!)


Tin said…
I had the same reaction regarding The Ember War and the Night Walkers, and also of Alinor in Castle Borso. What was zat about?

And I enjoyed the unraveling of Brandin's character too. And of course, the ending! Ugh. It is perhaps one of the most frustrating endings I have encountered. :D

Btw, is Earthsea good? Is it difficult to get in to?
Monique said…
TIN: Earthsea is good also and not at all difficult to get into. I've only read the first book, though. Will try to read the second one soon. :)

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